Dr. J. Glenn Friesen

Herman Dooyeweerd:
De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee
Notes on Foreword

Linked Glossary
List of Notes

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume I
Prism of Cosmic Time
Law and Subject

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume II
The Gegenstand
Dis-stasis/ Synthesis
Intuition and Time
Conceptual Limits
Horizon and Levels
God, Self and Cosmos

© J. Glenn Friesen

Notes regarding the Foreword to
Herman Dooyeweerd: De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee
(Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1935-36)

General Notes on the Foreword

In his Foreword to the First Edition of the WdW, Dooyeweerd says that the first, rudimentary conception of his philosophy had already ripened before he arrived at the Kuyper Foundation (Kuyperstichting) in The Hague. Dooyeweerd started work at the Kuyper Foundation in October, 1922 [The NC translation incorrectly says 1921. See Henderson, Illuminating Law, p. 29 and p. 31, ft. 74].

The implications of Dooyeweerd's philosophy pre-dating his arrival at the Kuyper Foundation have not been fully explored. For Dooyeweerd was not reading Kuyper at that time either. “After university, Dooyeweerd did not read Kuyper, and there are no quotations from Kuyper in his manuscripts until after 1922" (Henderson, p. 48).

By far the best account of the development of Dooyeweerd's thought is given by Marcel Verburg in his Herman Dooyeweerd: Leven en werk van een Nederlands christen-wijsgeer (Baarn: Ten Have, 1989). Verburg says that Dooyeweerd was not impressed by Kuyper in his student days. It was only very late that Dooyeweerd expressed appreciation for Kuyper (Verburg, 407). These facts cannot be emphasized enough in trying to get at the roots of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. Kuyper was not the turning point for him.

Dooyeweerd has never given a clear history of the origins of his philosophy (Verburg, 88). Henderson says that Dooyeweerd, together with Vollenhoven, made a “find” in the spring of 1922—that is, many months before Dooyeweerd started at the Kuyper Foundation. (Henderson, pp. 30 ff). Vollenhoven’s letter to Cornelius Van Til of February 4, 1936 refers to fact that he and Dooyeweerd “made a find.” Henderson also says that a subsequent memo indicates that Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven thought they had discovered ideas worthy of publication before he started at the Kuyper Foundation. Henderson thinks it had to do with epistemology from a Calvinist standpoint. It also included ideas objecting to the “denaturing” [reduction] of areas and spheres of science.

I believe that this use of the term ‘denaturing’to refer to reductionism or absolutization can be traced to Franz von Baader. When we absolutize the temporal, it cease to be the nature for the supratemporal.

This “find” in the spring of 1922 was the basis of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. And it also appears to be the basis for Dooyeweerd’s proposal for work to be done at the Kuyper Foundation. Henderson says “In May, 1922, Dooyeweerd wrote a letter to the Kuyperstichting about a work program: putting to use the foundations already achieved during his private research.” Dooyeweerd says his proposed work would concern the foundations (‘grondslagen’) of thought.

Despite Henderson’s efforts, he could not discover what the “find” was. Dooyeweerd’s letter to the Kuyper Foundation implies it had something to do with epistemology. Henderson’s own view is that some notion of the sovereignty of God in relation to norms for every “life and world sphere” was also central to this discovery (p. 47). Henderson seems to say that the “find” was Dooyeweerd’s own working out of these problematics. But this does not seem to adequately account for this significant event for Dooyeweerd's philosophy. A“find” or “discovery” points to encountering some new ideas.

Henderson believes that this “find” is the same as Dooyeweerd’s famous account of his walk along the dunes, although he says there are some problems with Dooyeweerd’s account (p. 38). I believe that that is likely, but it does not exclude the encounter with new ideas. On the other hand, the walk along the dunes may have been a further development of these new ideas.

In this Foreword, Dooyeweerd refers to his "great turning point" in his thought. I believe that this is the same as his “find” in the spring of 1922. His reference to the “turning point” follows in the text of the WdW immediately after his statement that he had formed the rudimentary conception of his philosophy before coming to the Hague. He says (WdW v,vi) that this discovery included:

1. the discovery of the religious root of thinking itself
2. the realization that the idea of a religious root cast a new light on unsuccessful attempts to connect Christian belief and philosophy on the basis of the (false) idea of the self-sufficiency (autonomy) of human reason
3. The realization of the significance of the heart that is spoken of by Scripture as the religious root of the whole of human existence
4. This central Christian viewpoint was so radical that it made Kant’s “Copernican revolution” appear to be only something in the periphery.
5. Kant relativized the “natural” sides of reality with respect to the theoretical abstraction of the “homo noumenon” or the “transcendental subject of thought”
6. In contrast to Kant, the Christian viewpoint relativizes the whole temporal cosmos, in both its “natural” and “spiritual” sides, as against the religious root of creation in Christ. [This does not appear in the NC translation]
7. The realization that the idea of self-sufficient thought was a fall from our true human selfhood [this does not appear in the NC translation]
8. The discovery of [this] Ground-Idea [‘grond-idee’] allows criticism of immanence philosophy in showing its own supra-theoretical religious a priori.
9. The realization that temporal reality cannot be neutral with respect to its religious root. This is in the sense that there is no temporal reality “an sich” [no things in themselves]
10. If this is so, there can be no religious neutrality of theoretical thought.

Now it is only after he lists these ten points that he speaks of Kuyper. He refers to Kuyper’s cosmological Ground-Principle [‘grondprincipe’] of sphere sovereignty. But Dooyeweerd says that the development and carrying out of this idea of sphere sovereignty was dependent on the newly won Christian-religious Ground-attitude [‘grond-instelling’].

It seems to me that Dooyeweerd is therefore saying that points 1 through 10 were discovered prior to his reading Kuyper in depth, and that this "newly won insight" was necessary in order to develop Kuyper’s ideas.

Now if he did not get these 10 points from Kuyper, from whom did he get them? Which philosopher refers to all of these points? I am not aware of any philosopher except Franz von Baader, and indeed, all of these points are founds in his philosophy, together with others that were later also incorporated by Dooyeweerd. See my article, ‘The Mystical Dooyeweerd: The Relation of His Thought to Franz von Baader,’ Ars Disputandi [http://www.arsdisputandi.org/] Vol. 3 (2003). And see my subsequent article, "Dooyeweerd and Baader: A Response to D.F.M. Strauss" [http://www.members.shaw.ca/hermandooyeweerd/Strauss.html].

Susini reports that there was a renaissance of interest in Baader following World War I. In 1921, Max Pulver published a selection of Baader's writings: Schriften Franz von Baaders (Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1921).

As I discuss elsewhere, Dooyeweerd's use of the term 'mode,' and even the order of succession of these modes from the mathematical through the spatial, physical, kinetic and sensory modes may also have been influenced by his reading of Frederik van Eeden. Van Eeden says as movement through these modes progresses, our experience becomes more concrete. But Van Eeden himself was familiar with Baader as is shown by entries in his journal. But van Eeden does not have all of these ten points.

Now even if I am correct that Dooyeweerd was influenced by Baader in 1922, this does not mean that Dooyeweerd's thought was given all at once. There certainly continued to be a development in Dooyeweerd's thought. Verburg traces the development of the terms 'mode' through to 'aspect' and modality.' And the use of the term 'cosmic time' does not appear until around 1930 (Verburg, 122). But these developments can also be attributed to further reading of Baader. It takes time to assimilate Baader's ideas, since they are not systematic. Furthermore, new information on Baader appeared between 1922 and 1930. In 1925 Baader's work on time was re-published, Elementarbegriffe über die Zeit (Jena: Fischer, 1925, originally published 1831). In the same year, Sauter edited a collection of Baader's work entitled Schriften der Gesellschaftsphilosophie (Jena: Fischer, 1925). Baumgardt's book Franz von Baader und die Philosophische Romantik also was published (Halle: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1927). And Sauter published Baader und Kant (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1928). And a collection of Baader's writings was re-published in 1931 as Philosophische Schriften und Aussätze von Franz Baader (Münster, 1831).

Of course Dooyeweerd read Kuyper after he went to the Kuyperstichting. But Kuyper had in turn been greatly influenced by Baader.

Verburg says it was not until the mid 1930's that Dooyeweerd really gave any credit to Kuyper for his philosophy. And this was only after the theologian Valentijn Hepp sharply criticized the work of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven as not being in the Reformed tradition. In 1936, Hepp published a series of brochures entitled Dreigende Deformatie [Threatening Deformation]. This caused a long investigation of both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. It did not end until after World War II, when the theological faculty changed. See the lengthy Responses to the Curators by both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

Largely as a response to these attacks by Hepp, Dooyeweerd published an article showing that he did stand in the line of Kuyper's thought. This is the article, "Wat de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee aan Kuyper te danken heeft," (De Reformatie Oct 29/37 pp. 63-65). But even this article criticized certain ideas of Kuyper. Dooyeweerd reported that he was accused of having cut Kuyper in half, and only having used from Kuyper what he found necessary for his own work (Verburg, 232). Two years later, Dooyeweerd followed this article with another one where he was critical of Kuyper, "Kuyper's Wetenschapsleer."

Notes on the Foreword

1.The Foreword corresponds to NC I, v-xi. But the NC version has been abridged. This has resulted in some important points being omitted.

2. The contrast with Kant’s “peripheral” Copernican revolution is much stronger in the WdW than in the NC. The WdW says that it is the Christian philosophy that relativizes the temporal world against the religious root of creation! The NC translation omits this, and refers only to Kant as relativizing temporal reality relative to Kant’s transcendental subject.

3. It is not clear why Kant’s German is not translated in NC. I have given my own translation.

4. Baader had also been concerned with placing the natural and spiritual sides of creation in a common root.

5. The NC does not translate the words “true human selfhood.” but the idea that we have fallen from our true selfhood is so important in Dooyeweerd. Perhaps it was not included because of the rejection of Dooyeweerd's idea of the supratemporal selfhood.

6. The NC translates “transcendental Ground-Idea.” But the WdW speaks of a “philosophic” Ground-Idea. This is because for Dooyeweerd, philosophy is that kind of theory that attempts to relate theoretical thought back to the supratemporal conditions of thought. For him this is the only true (wezenlijk) kind of philosophic thought. I,vi.

7. The NC removes reference to “religious” in “supra-theoretical religious a priori.” For Dooyeweerd, religion concerns our relation to the supratemporal center and its Origin, God.

8. The NC speaks of “the religious root of mankind.” This gives the impression that mankind has a root that is religious. But Dooyeweerd’s view is that mankind is itself the religious root. Our supratemporal selfhood is the temporal root of the cosmos; the cosmos is fallen in this root, and needs to be redeemed in this root, as redeemed in Christ, the new root. But the temporal world has no existence at all apart from the religious root. This is a crucial point in Dooyeweerd's philosophy. It has not been followed by those who reject the idea of a supratemporal heart. But this heart is also the root of temporal reality, which has no separate existence an sich. The idea of a reality “an sich” is a view that reality somehow exists apart from humanity. Dooyeweerd’s argument is that if temporal reality cannot be neutral to its root, how can theoretical thought be religiously neutral?

9. The distinction between what is religiously central (the supratemporal) and the temporal periphery is essential to understanding Dooyeweerd. That which is central expresses and reveals itself in the peripheral, and the peripheral in turn refers back to what iscentral for its meaning. The emphasis on the heart as center and the cosmos as temporal continues in Dooyeweerd’s thought. See his 1964 speech to the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy, “Centrum en omtrek: De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee in een veranderande wereld,” Philosophia Reformata 72 (2007) 1-19. Translation online at [http://www.members.shaw.ca/hermandooyeweerd/1964Lecture.html].

10. The paragraph beginning with the words "Temporal reality cannot itself be regarded as neutral..." contains two important ideas. First, that temporal reality is not neutral with respect to its religious root. This goes back to the previous paragraph, where Dooyeweerd says that the religious root relativizes all of temporal reality. It has no existence in itself, or “an sich.” Second, if all of temporal reality is not neutral, then certainly theoretical thought, which is a part of our temporal experience, cannot be neutral. Thus, Dooyeweerd’s rejection of the dogma of the autonomy of thought is directly related to his assertion of the supratemporal religious root that relativizes all temporal reality.

Revised Oct 10/07